2016 Yamaha XSR900 Review
Yamaha, as well as the buying public, knows a good thing when it sees it, and the new XSR900 is the third iteration of the terrific triple.
It started with the FZ-09, a supermoto-inspired lightweight upright sport bike that became an instant favorite of Ultimate MotorCycling President Arthur Coldwells. He enjoyed it so much that he turned it into a sport tourer so he could put even more miles on it.
Yamaha followed Arthur’s lead and created the FJ-09, a dedicated sport-tourer that Managing Editor Kelly Callan gravitated to, and she also put many twisting miles on the taller, wider, long-distance friendly machine.
With the new XSR900, it’s my turn to fall in love with the Crossplane crankshaft inline-3. Yamaha worked some unexpected magic with the XSR900, a visually retro motorcycle that integrates technical advantages that the FJ-09 has enjoyed, but have not yet migrated to the lower- cost FZ-09.
As much as I’m a supermoto aficionado, I have to admit that the ergonomics of the XSR900 immediately appealed to me. The XSR’s traditional flatter seat is taller and farther back than the FZ-09’s perch, and that relatively moves the grips and bars forward and downward. By giving the rider more room, the XSR is a comfortable mount with a bit more aggressive, lean-forward visual panache.
Part of Yamaha’s new four-bike Sport Heritage line along with the VMax, Bolt C-Spec, and SR400, the XSR strives to mix modern technology with charisma of the past.
While the XSR900’s chassis and engine are purely 21st century, they are matched with period styling detail cues such as the round headlight, taillight, and speedometer (though, curiously, not the mirrors). The fuel tank covers are your choice of authentic hand-buffed aluminum (which looks oddly plasticky), or the stirring yellow/black 60th Anniversary livery that evokes Kenny Roberts’ life-threatening 1975 TZ750 at tracker. The photos tell you which treatment I prefer.
The changes to the FZ-09 are not limited to the visuals and ergonomics; Yamaha has also made the XSR900 into a superior sport bike and urban battle cruiser.
Riding the XSR900 in traffic reveals the use of a new clutch technology that we have also seen in other bikes, and it is one that works. Engineers have developed a way to use torque produced by the motor to push the clutch plates together under acceleration. This, in turn, allows for the use of lighter (and half as many) clutch springs, reducing the clutch pull by a claimed 20-percent. It’s not something a sport rider will likely notice, but if you spend a lot of time dueling with bumper-to-bumper traffic, as I do in Los Angeles, it means less fatigue on those unavoidable rush hour excursions.
More familiar and noticeable is the slipper clutch. On hard downshifts, the clutch disengages whatever amount is needed to prevent rear wheel lockup. I hit the shifter hard in the canyons, and the slipper clutch worked impressively during aggressive deceleration.
Aiding in slowing down, of course, are friendly and strong braking from Advics (front, with 298mm discs) and Nissin (a 245mm disc). In addition to ABS being standard, and quite effective, the rear brake has great feel and is certainly useful.
Yamaha didn’t ignore acceleration and has added traction control to the XSR900. There are two levels of intervention, along with the ability to disable it. For me, it came down to a choice of two.
For riding on backroads, and anytime traction looked iffy, I went with TCS- 2, which is the most aggressive traction control setting. It doesn’t make the XSR900 lethargic—instead, it adds a bit of confidence to wick the throttle open without worrying about the back end coming around.
There are also three power delivery choices, A (sportiest), STD, and B (soft). The XSR900’s motor requests permission to go with the snappily aggressive A in the canyons, and riders with a decent amount of experience will happily comply.
The triple is still smooth and unintimidating—the notchy throttle of the rst FZ-09 is gone—and this makes going fast in the twisties effortless. The power is there to gently lift the front end and carry long low-altitude wheelies out of uphill corners, if desired. Or, just move slightly forward and keep the front wheel down— the XSR is happy either way.
Yamaha has also modified the suspension in a way that I didn’t expect. With the retro look, I would have thought Yamaha would appeal to the urban crowd and soften up the suspension to make it more pliable on the rough roads of the inner city. Instead, the engineers and product developers did the opposite.
KYB fork and shock damping on the XSR900 is increased in both directions, particularly rebound, compared to the FZ-09. Additionally, the XSR’s 41mm forks get dual rate springs that are both softer and harder than the FZ versions.
A Yamaha insider told me this was done to help stabilize the bike to assist newer riders, and it undoubtedly does that. More importantly to those of us with a bit more experience and desire to push a few limits, the firmer suspension also makes the XSR markedly more predictable in the twisties.
Although the suspension is less compliant, the net result is a ride that is much more stable when aggressively taking on canyon roads. I felt fully confident to heel over the XSR900 and test the limits of the excellent Bridgestone Battlax S20s; that included touching down the footpegs, something I try to keep to a minimum for obvious reasons.
While the FZ-09 handles itself quite well in corners, the XSR900 is a clear step in the sporting direction and the FZ-09 needs these suspension settings, pronto.
The firmer suspension plays out nicely in the city, too, as the XSR feels planted, just as Yamaha planned. Compliance is more than adequate on bumpy urban roads, so there is no significant down- side to the stiffer suspension—only an improvement.
When it comes time for the inevitable hooliganism, the XSR900 is a willing co-conspirator. Simply stop the bike and press a couple of buttons to access the traction control’s TCS-Off setting so you don’t have to worry about any power being cut to the rear wheel at an inopportune moment, and you know you are getting the most out of the motor, especially in the A mode. It would be nice to be allowed to disable the ABS, but stoppies still happen.
Even if you’re just taking it easy around town, the XSR900 is an ideal mount— stick with the STD power mode, as B mode is best saved for a rainy day. The seat is exceptionally comfortable all day, and the ergonomics empower hours in the saddle. We have been fans of the Cross- plane Crankshaft motor since it debuted in the YZF-R1 superbike, and the torquey smoothness shines in this configuration.
When the FZ-09 came out, it was only natural to wish for a sport-touring version, and the FJ-09 quickly appeared to quell our demands. Few of us conceived of a retro-modern variation, but the 2016 Yamaha XSR900 is here, and we could not be happier with the classic looks and modernization of the platform.
Photos by Brain J. Nelson
2016 Yamaha XSR900 Photo Gallery